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Monday, April 6, 2015

Welcome to the Arena in the Clouds

Will she join the Minarchists or the Anarchists?


Way up in the clouds, two teams were preparing for intellectual combat on either side of Cloud Arena, a stadium thrust upward by a single, mile-high spire.

On one side of the arena was the blue-and-white team — the Minarchists — their tunics emblazoned with images of Robert Nozick or Friedrich Hayek. They thought, quite reasonably, that a small, night-watchman state is justifiable and necessary for protecting individual rights, settling disputes, and being a power of last resort with respect to threats of violence (both internal and external) against the innocent. A small, well-defined state would be the very instantiation of justice.

On the other side of Cloud Arena was the black-and-yellow team — the Anarchists — wearing icons of Murray Rothbard or Lysander Spooner. They thought, reasonably, that it’s not only difficult to maintain a night-watchman state due to the corruptive powers of special interests, but that free people can organize their own private institutions, protective associations, and dispute-resolution mechanisms. This way, there would be no coercive institutions to be corrupted at all, and a world free of state aggression could emerge.

Both teams yelled across Cloud Arena, sometimes frothing with indignation. Their arguments usually consisted in appeals to axioms, which they clutched to their chests like Gollum’s “precioussss.” At other times, their appeals took the form of what consequences were likely to flow from their respective ideals of social order. In any case, both thought they already knew a priori what the just society should look like. The problem was simple: the other side just didn’t have the right knowledge.

Meanwhile, down on the ground, the rest of the people went on teeming and hustling in their imperfect, unjust world.

Then, one day, a young girl climbed up the long, spiral staircase to Cloud Arena. She walked innocently into the arena’s center.

After listening for a while, she asked, “Does it matter?”

Each side grumbled, citing this axiom or that. Each side went to enormous philosophical lengths to convince the girl that their team was correct.

“But does it make a difference which of you is right?” repeated the child.

“You’ll understand when you grow up,” said someone on the Minarchist team.

“Yeah, go read some books on this topic,” said an Anarchist, “and get back to us when you’ve finished. Then you’ll be ready to help our team create a better system.”

The two teams returned to the debate.

The girl walked away, somewhat despondent. It was all very interesting, to be sure, but she didn’t see how it related to the world she came from — a world of parental figures and traffic jams, of cartoons and dance recitals, of grown-ups arguing, and of sad headlines. She didn’t understand how their battles up in the sky would help make her world better.

*          *          *

As she grew older, both the logic and limitations of each position in Cloud Arena challenged her to think harder and more clearly. She read all of the Minarchist books and realized they made some very good points. She read all of the Anarchist books and realized they made some very good points. In her heart, she loved the idea of people being free, so she hoped that some argument would help her join a team, once and for all.

To her diet of reading, she added science, philosophy, and fiction. But she spent just as much of her time learning how to do stuff — stuff like writing computer code, running a business, and marketing products that people liked.

One day, she discovered that the more she learned how to create things people liked, the more they paid attention to her. Creating things, she found, was far more effective than arguing this position or that. She found that when she offered people better choices, they were sometimes willing to leave behind the old systems that had been holding them back. She didn’t need to recite the arguments. She just needed to show them the way, to improve their lives and help them to become freer, bit by bit.

So one day, older and wiser, the girl who had become a woman decided to climb back up to Cloud Arena, which seemed even higher now. She discovered, too, that the teams had grown larger. Their voices were louder and their faces redder as each tried to make his voice heard over the others.

“Excuse me,” she said respectfully.

“What do you want?” said a Minarchist. A hush came over the combatants, who were surprised to find a woman with no colors standing between the teams. “Can’t you see we’re in the middle of a debate?” the Minarchist barked. She recognized a few of the players, who’d gotten a little grayer, but she saw some new faces, too.

“I just wanted to congratulate each of you on how much bigger your teams have gotten.” It occurred to her that with most memories from childhood, things seem smaller when one returns as an adult. She felt a bit disoriented, as if she’d ingested Alice’s “drink me” potion.

“Hey, I remember you,” said an older Anarchist. “You wandered onto the field some years back. You were just a little kid. I recognize your eyes.”

“Yeah, that was me. Anyway, I wanted to give you all an update from the ground.”

“Fine, fine. Say your piece. We’ve got an argument to settle so the world can be liberated.”

“Well, the good news is, the world is getting a lot freer.”

“La, la, la…” said a Minarchist, cupping his hands over his ears. “Come back when we have a minimal state.”

“Let her finish,” said the Anarchist.

“The world isn’t perfect yet, but there are some interesting developments,” she said.

“Is the police state still throwing people in jail for victimless crimes?” asked the Anarchist.

“Yes, but innovators are figuring out how to use online cryptography to build gray markets, which is not only keeping a lot of people out of jail, but also reducing the violence of gangs and cartels.”

“Are governments still printing money and devaluing currencies?” asked the Minarchist.

“Yes, unfortunately. But innovators are figuring out how to use digital currencies, which have the potential to compete with fiat monies and central bankers.”

“This is all well and good,” said the Anarchist. “It sounds like a bunch of computer coders have been listening to our arguments!” All the Anarchists laughed.

“Yeah, well, just wait ‘til someone steals all your bitcoin,” said the Minarchist. “Don’t come crying to the night watchman!” The Anarchist glowered back.

“So, let me ask you,” the Anarchist said to the woman. “After all these years, have you decided to be a Minarchist or an Anarchist?”

The freedom-loving girl, now all grown up, thought about the question for a minute. The Minarchist and Anarchist each stood, arms crossed, waiting for her reply.

“Does it matter?” she said. “Is there some cosmic way to settle these questions? When in our lifetimes will we be able to call the matter done? When will we have arrived at one of your ideals? And how will we know?”

Both sides, for once, were silent.

She continued: “The people down there don’t care as much about your axioms as they do their intuitions.”

“People down there just aren’t that bright,” said the Anarchist. “That’s why democracy is useless. It’s why we have to enlighten them before the statists indoctrinate them.”

“I can’t disagree,” said the Minarchist. “Most of them are pretty dumb.”

“Do they care more about axioms than celebrities?” asked the woman. “Or all the agents and armies with jails and guns?”

“Principles can animate people,” objected the Minarchist. “And if they don’t, an individual’s rights must be protected, and the rule of law enfor—”

“It’s in enforcement that everything goes wrong,” the Anarchist interrupted.

“But without that core protective function, we might all end up living under the jackboot,” replied the Minarchist.

“Maybe,” said the woman. “But will we ever really reach a day where all the teeming masses of a nation embrace your position — or yours — through the sheer light of Reason, peeking through the clouds shining on them from way up here?”

The Minarchists stroked their beards. Some Anarchists fiddled with their bow ties; others scratched their heads.

“Or are people more likely to agree with your views if we work — day by day, person by person, innovation by innovation — to make the world freer so that the need for state functions, perceived or actual, is obviated, one small sphere of life at a time?”

“You may be right. All this arguing may be pointless,” said the Anarchist. “But without us, you are just another relativist. If you don’t have a destination — at least a moral compass — how will you ever know which way to go?”

“The trouble is, nobody lives up here except you. It seems most of you just come up here to argue,” the woman said. “But up here, there are no 'adjacent possibles.' And every minute you spend arguing in Cloud Arena is a minute you can’t spend finding ways to make us freer. It’s time to start creating something.”

“But without an axiom, we don’t have an ethic,” the Minarchist said. “Without an ethic, we don’t have an identity. Without an identity, we don’t have a team. And without a team, we don’t have a chance.”

“That may be true. But maybe it’s time for a different team,” the woman said.

“A different team?” said the Anarchist, scratching his head.

“We all agree that, wherever possible, it’s better to do the change thing through persuasion than coercion, right?” She looked at both sides and waited.

Both sides nodded. “Sounds like Anarchism to me,” said the Anarchist, at which the Minarchist furrowed his brow.

“And we agree that we should be freer in as many spheres of life as possible, both because we value freedom and because freer people are generally better off, correct?”

Grudgingly, both sides muttered yes.

“So why don’t we all join the same team? Our ethos can be the agreement that we make the world as free as possible. Then, if we ever get to minarchy — assuming anyone could actually recognize it if they saw it — we can decide whether to keep going.”

“That’s easy for you to say,” said the Anarchist. “You haven’t spent most of your life coming up with the best arguments for your side. We don’t really know how to do much of anything else. Besides, as soon as you open the door to monopolies of violence…”

A few people from each side walked to stand beside her, shaking her hand or clasping her shoulder.

“He’s right,” said the Minarchist. “My beard is gray. This is my home now. And if there is ever a zombie apocalypse or something down there, a few of us have to be ready to draw up another Constitution — a better one.”

“I won’t sign it,” muttered an Anarchist with a “No Treason” tattoo.

“Besides,” the Minarchist said, raising his index finger, “I have the argument to destroy all other arguments! I will soon bring the Anarchists to heel and take my message of Truth to the world. Anarchism is just not possible!”

The Minarchists cheered in unison.

“Yeah, right,” said the Anarchist.

And they all went back to arguing loudly. The woman could no longer hear her own thoughts. So she turned and walked to the edge of Cloud Arena.

Whereupon, she jumped.

Those few who had joined her, followed her into the mass of clouds. Those who remained on Cloud Arena were stunned. But the clouds were so thick, no one among the remaining Minarchists or Anarchists could see what fate awaited them below.

You can find a Portuguese version of this article here


  • Max Borders is author of The Social Singularity. He is also the founder and Executive Director of Social Evolution—a non-profit organization dedicated to liberating humanity through innovation. Max is also co-founder of the Voice & Exit event and former editor at the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE). Max is a futurist, a theorist, a published author and an entrepreneur.